More On The Value Of Leadership

The Boston Globe published an article on 03/26/06 which reports that Utah Symphony & Opera and Boston Pops Music Director Keith Lockhart doesn’t believe living year-round in Salt Lake would guarantee a better orchestra…


The article cites an implication made by consultant and retired Cleveland Orchestra president Tom Morris that he would like to see Lockhart spend more time at his post in Utah. Morris was contracted by the US&O last year to evaluate their current position and his evaluation has served as the foundation for their current recovery plan.

The issue of whether or not a music director should reside in the city they conduct has been a hot issue the past few years. I doubt there is any universal answer which would guarantee one living arrangement will more successful over another. Nevertheless, the issue comes down to some basic aspects of leadership.

There’s a growing double standard in many American orchestras with regard to audience development and public interaction that dictates what is good for the geese is not necessarily good for the gander.

In particular, I find this double standard largely apparent among education programs. In ever increasing numbers, orchestras are sending their musicians into local schools for a variety of educational outreach efforts. In general, they are mostly a good thing (although whether or not they’ll do much good in the here-and-now is arguable) but I rarely see music directors involved in these activities to a fraction of the extent as are the players.

How many times does a music director go to a local high school to guest conduct their orchestra? Do they have their agents contact the respective state music educators association to let them know that their orchestral music director client would like to conduct the local All-State orchestra (or, gasp, band)?

Unfortunately, most of the music director interaction with the public I observe comes in the form of talking from the stage, shaking some hands at an open concert reception, or giving a pre-concert lecture. Those may be good activities but they still fundamentally reinforce a “music director mystique” mentality among the public.

If the business is sincere about wanting to establish stronger connections with their audience then a number of music directors will need to realize that their involvement within an organization is going to require greater time commitments. That means less high-fee-globe-trotting-guest-conducting and more time at their posts building their ensembles alongside their fellow musicians (after all, they get paid enough to do these things already).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “More On The Value Of Leadership

  1. Drew
    Your last two entries are close to my heart, I worked with Ann Koonsman for seven years when I was as associate conductor of the FWSO until 2001, and I couldn’t be happier that she is back, she is a force and she taught me many important lessons and values. As for the current entry, I am grappling with this very issue with my class “Audience Connections” at Drury University. If you check out Joe’s entry on Butts in Seats on March 20, he features my teaching technique using current events and in particular blogs (of which yours is one) they look up each week. We are soon to talk about the Knight Foundation report on Orchestras that deals partly with the issue of conductors residing in communities where they are music director. I am music director of the Springfield Symphony (MO) and I moved here with my family last August. The comment about making an orchestra better is not the reason to move, and Tom Morris talked about time, not standards. My most important task as an MD is not to make the orchestra better, it is to make the make the community better with the orchestra. I recently met with our community foundation and we talked not of the cool programs we could do with the orchestra, but about the 40% of children that live here in poverty and what we could do about that. It is not important just to visit school orchestras (which I do and love to do), but as a community leader, create programming to deal with the problems in the city. The reason it is important to reside is that it then becomes your community and when that happens you start to care, so everything you do relates to wanting quality of life for your own family also. When I talk to donors about their orchestra and their community, I am also talking to them about my orchestra and my community, and that makes a big difference. Not to boast but in two seasons our ticket sales are up 50%, and the mayor, the city manager and the president of the chamber of commerce have publicly praised our efforts to be an integral part of the quality of life our city. One of our major sponsors St Johns Hospital asked our help to recruit a top neurosurgeon who was deciding between two cities as he wanted to go to the one that had the more satisfying orchestra season, and he chose us (I don’t know the other city). The bottom line for me and I am starting to write a book on this is that I have realized that being any kind of a musician whether a conductor or a banjo player is not a job, it is a skill. Our job is touch people’s lives with music. Speaking of people, I have also discovered that I am not in the music business, I am in the people business. With all the seminars on how to be an effective music director, to me it boils down to one word….care! Let’s start talking about making people’s lives better, not on how we can be better. I hope we can talk more about this in the future.
    Ron Spigelman

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